The thing about having a dominant champion at the top of a division is that narratives get built around them. Fighters start to look at beating that person as the main goal of their career, perhaps even moreso than holding the belt. Right now, in some gym, some fighter who isn’t even in the UFC is probably trying to figure out how to beat Demetrious Johnson. They may never even get the chance to fight him, but just thinking about it is motivation.
For Julianna Pena, the narrative of her UFC career has been built around cutting a path to Ronda Rousey. She was on Miesha Tate’s team during the 18th season of the Ultimate Fighter, going up against Ronda Rousey’s fighters. And while Rousey may have only been a coach on the show, Pena seems to have taken her stance as a member of the opposition to heart.
On a recent episode of Brian Stann’s Toe-2-Toe radio show Pena lamented that, following Rousey’s back to back losses to Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes, she’ll no longer have the chance to be the one to dethrone the former women’s bantamweight champ (transcript via MMA Fighting).
“It just sucks that Ronda’s been dodging me this whole time. When I was on The Ultimate Fighter and Dana allowed women to fight in the UFC, she was fighting one girl while I fought four girls in seven weeks. The reason why they don’t count those fights as real is because it would be illegal. It would be absolutely illegal to allow that many fights in that short amount of time.
“The thing that drives me crazy is that I took out her whole team. She should’ve wanted to fight me in vengeance for her team right after I beat every member on her team. I dismantled all of them. It drives me crazy that it wasn’t me that was able to do it and it drives me crazy that she’s been dodging me this whole time and that I wasn’t the one to be able to dethrone her. To show everyone that this girl’s been spoiled. She’s been handpicking her fights from day one. She’s been getting everything handed to her because her name is Ronda Rousey and she’s been brought up to be this glorious god that was untouchable and it just drives me crazy that I wasn’t able to be the one to dethrone her from the beginning.
“But hats off to Holly Holm and hats off to Amanda Nunes for getting the job done. Unfortunately, it wasn’t able to be me and I don’t know if it ever will be because I don’t know if she’s ever gonna come back or not.”
Of course, just because Pena is sparing a few thoughts for what might have been doesn’t mean she’s lost sight of the challenge in front of her. Pena told Stann that she’s been essentially stalking her opponent, Valentina Shevchenko, in the lead up to their UFC on FOX 23 bout. “I wake up thinking about her, I got to bed thinking about her. She’s always constantly on my mind,” Pena told Stann.
UFC on FOX 23 goes down on January 28th at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. The top contender fight between Pena and Shevchenko will headline a card featuring Donald Cerrone vs. Jorge Masvidal and Andrei Arlovski vs. Francis Ngannou.